FBI nabs Virginia movie uploader

internet-thiefA Virginia man is facing 10 years in prison for posting movies online. His website once released the latest Star Wars movie six hours before it hit theaters nationwide.

Investigations by the FBI, including the field office in Richmond, VA, have led to the conviction of Daniel Dove, 26, on counts of conspiracy and felony copyright infringement involving a website that Dove worked at. Dove is from Clintwood, VA. The conviction was handed down by a federal jury in Big Stone Gap, VA.

Dove worked as an administrator for EliteTorrents.org. The site used BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer file sharing protocol developed in 2001 by programmer Bram Cohen.

With BitTorrent, large amounts of data are distributed through a process involving small files called torrents. Users search the web for a torrent they like, download said torrent, and open it with a BitTorrent client. These torrents contain information about specific trackers, which are computers that coordinate file distribution.

Once a user has downloaded and opened a torrent, they can then connect to these trackers and download large files from a variety of sources. This can allow for speedier downloads, lower costs, and greater resistance to abuse as opposed to standard HTTP servers.

While nothing is illegal about BitTorrent itself, as the files do not contain copyrighted material, the use of it to copy copyrighted material is where things get a little sticky.

Dove’s site, EliteTorrents.org, regularly distributed approximately 700 illegally reproduced movies to its 125,000 members. These movies were downloaded more than 1.1 million times. In addition, evidence presented in the case showed that music, video games, and high-value software were also distributed through the site. Much of the content included illegal copies of copyrighted works that were made available on the site before they were released in retail stores and movie theaters.

So why was Elite Torrents singled out? One of the main reasons was the site’s release of Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith a full six hours prior to its theatrical release. This attracted the attention of the Motion Picture Association of America, which regularly monitors BitTorrent sites. In addition, the owner of the site’s domain name lived in the United States, making it an easier target for the federal government.

Dove regularly recruited new members to the Elite Torrents website, focusing on users who had high-speed internet connections and designating them as uploaders. These uploaders provided the pirated material to Elite Torrents. Dove also operated a high-speed server, from which he distributed pirated content to members of the website.

Dove is the eighth person convicted in association with a nationwide federal crackdown against the illegal distribution of copyrighted material. Called “Operation D-Elite,” the crackdown began in 2005.

Sentencing is scheduled for September 9, 2008. Dove faces a maximum of 10 years in prison. The Richmond FBI office did not return phone calls seeking comment.

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